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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Curtiss-Wright Exp. Corp. - 299 U.S. 304, 57 S. Ct. 216 (1936)


The very delicate, plenary and exclusive power of the President as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations is a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress, but which, of course, like every other governmental power, must be exercised in subordination to the applicable provisions of the United States Constitution. If, in the maintenance of international relations, embarrassment - perhaps serious embarrassment - is to be avoided and success for national aims achieved, congressional legislation which is to be made effective through negotiation and inquiry within the international field must often accord to the President a degree of discretion and freedom from statutory restriction which would not be admissible were domestic affairs alone involved. Moreover, he, not Congress, has the better opportunity of knowing the conditions which prevail in foreign countries, and especially is this true in time of war. He has his confidential sources of information. He has his agents in the form of diplomatic, consular and other officials. Secrecy in respect of information gathered by them may be highly necessary, and the premature disclosure of it productive of harmful results.


A joint resolution of Congress authorized the President to declare the sale of arms to certain countries illegal. Though the President initially issued a proclamation that declared that sales to Bolivia were unlawful, the President later revoked his proclamation. Defendants allegedly sold arms to Bolivia before the revocation of the proclamation, and demurred to the charges against them on the ground that the revocation of the proclamation precluded their prosecution. Trial court granted the demurrer.


May Congress delegate to the president authority to promulgate laws in matters of foreign affairs?




The President is the representative of the country in discussing matters of foreign affairs. It is found that the President is better to address and identify issues of the country on a national level, most especially because the President has access to confidential information that has to do with consular, diplomatic and foreign affairs. Moreover, the President had broad discretion to determine the benefit of enforcing a joint resolution on international relations. The power to make decisions regarding international affairs was vested in the President, especially in areas that could lead to embarrassment of or security issues for the nation. Defendants' argument that the power to declare certain arms sales illegal was invalidly delegated to the President was unjustified. The revocation of the proclamation did not change defendants' violation of the joint resolution; the revocation only stopped the joint resolution from being enforced against sales to Bolivia in the future. The judgment granting defendants' demurrer was reversed and the cause was remanded for further proceedings.

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